Dragons take three of four in quick trip to Tokyo
Stars and Stripes April 2, 2023
TOKYO – They were as close to running on fumes as any baseball team that played four games within 24 hours could be.
Yet, Kubasaki refused to quit in the last of those games on a sunny Saturday afternoon at American School In Japan’s Mustang Valley.
Trailing 8-2 in the top of the seventh inning, Max Ramos, Julian Hall, Wyatt Quinn and Luka Koja singled in runs and Lukas Gaines stroked an RBI double to cut the gap to one.
But with the bases loaded and two outs, Nick Adams popped up down the left field line. ASIJ third baseman Isreal Rodriguez – who gave the Mustangs the lead for good with a bases-clearing double in the fourth – caught the ball while stumbling backward, ending the game.
“I’m struggling,” Dragons first baseman Andrew Welte said after the only loss Kubasaki suffered in the four games they played in two days.
The Dragons’ odyssey began at 5 a.m. Friday at Camp Foster and included a flight and a bus ride to Tokyo. They then quickly played back-to-back games, got some sleep and played two more on Saturday.
“It was tough, but it was worth it,” Welte said. “We did what we could. We had a few ups and downs, but we’ll work on them.”
Having played only against Kadena and some Japanese teams on Okinawa, the Dragons wanted different opposition and ASIJ was willing to host Kubasaki for two games against the Mustangs and one each against St. Mary’s and Zama.
“The guys dug deep,” Welte’s father, Dragons coach Jason Welte, said. “I’m super proud of them. To be proud as a coach and as a parent (is a) complete understatement.”
The four games also served as good preparation for Far East tournaments April 24-26 for the three other teams, Zama playing Division II at Osan and St. Mary’s, ASIJ and the Dragons in Division I at Kubasaki.
“It’s an opportunity that comes once or twice a year,” Adams said.
Kubasaki got complete-game pitching outings from Koja and Hall on Friday against Zama and ASIJ, and Adams on Saturday against the Titans before the loss to the Mustangs.
Welte drove in two runs in the first game, a 6-4 Kubasaki victory over the Trojans – just the second loss for Zama in 14 games. Koja, a left-hander, scattered six hits and five walks and struck out six.
“They definitely held their own,” said Andrew Welte of Zama, which has beaten St. Mary’s two times for the first time in 20 years and also beat ASIJ at home. “They were good. It wasn’t easy, but we got it.”
The Trojans committed five errors, walked three batters and hit three batters in the defeat. “You can’t hit and walk that many batters and make that many errors and still win,” Trojans coach Dirk Schmiedel said. “But it was fun. I’m glad we did it.”
Hall went the distance in the second game, a five-inning contest, allowing just two hits while walking six in a 2-1 win over ASIJ. Adams drove in both runs, including Koja with a single in the fourth inning.
In Friday’s two games, Adams and Welte were each hit by three pitches. “That’s the most I’ve ever been hit in any one day,” Adams said.
Adams went six innings in Saturday’s opener against the Titans, scattering seven hits and three walks and striking out six. He helped himself by going 3-for-4, while Welte tripled twice, doubled and drove in four runs. Koja went 3-for-3 and Hall had two RBIs.
A bright moment for St. Mary’s came in the fourth inning when they turned a triple play. Adams lined out to Titans second baseman Shounsuke Ito, and he and first baseman Raku Kadoi caught Jacy Fisk off the bag at second and Braeden Milam off the bag at first.
The second game with ASIJ seemed as if it would be just as close as Friday’s was. Koja scratched an infield single, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error, then scored on a wild pitch to tie it 2-2 in the top of the fifth.
But with two out and the bases full in the bottom of the fifth, Rodriguez lined a double off the left-center field fence, putting the Mustangs ahead to stay. But the outcome remained in doubt until Rodriguez caught the final out.
“They’re a good team; they know how to fight,” Rodriguez said of the Dragons.
Told of the lengthy journey Kubasaki undertook and then having to play right away, Mustangs first baseman Jack O’Neill said, “That’s impressive. It’s going to be exciting to play them (at Far East when the Dragons are) at full strength.”